Tokyo Olympics may re-impose local spectator ban as clampdown gets tougher

Not this time.

A new round of tough measures is emerging to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus at the Tokyo Olympics that open July 23, showing just how different, and antisocial, these Games will be.

The organizers, who just last month said they would allow some domestic spectators, are now reconsidering. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Wednesday a state of emergency would be reintroduced in Tokyo next week, which would likely mean banning spectators at Tokyo events completely. Local media said the end of the emergency would be set for Aug. 22, two weeks after the Games finish.

The stakes have been raised by an uptick in infections in Tokyo. On Wednesday the city reported 920 new cases, the highest level since mid-May.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said representatives of Tokyo organizers, the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government will discuss spectator options after government health advisers meet Thursday. Also Thursday, IOC President Thomas Bach is due to arrive in Japan.

The Games have already banned foreign spectators, and with them, family members of athletes from around the world.

Athletes in the Olympic Village are being told to limit alcohol consumption to their rooms, eat quickly at partition-divided tables and leave the dining hall rather than mingle, and keep social interaction to a minimum. They have been asked to leave Japan within 48 hours of their competition finishing—many can forget the triumphant walk in the Closing Ceremony—and are restricted to a list of preapproved destinations.

The Olympic torch relay that heralds the arrival of the Games will be taken off public roads in Tokyo and switched to daily ceremonies behind closed doors. Even the Olympic marathon, typically the most accessible athletic event to the host city’s general population as it winds through city streets, aims to attempt a version of a Covid bubble, with organizers on Tuesday asking the public to “refrain from spectating along the course.”

Many of the measures reflect the reality of staging the world’s largest sporting event during a pandemic. Others illustrate the unique challenges of doing so in Japan.

The Tokyo Olympics are proceeding, after a year’s delay, despite rising coronavirus infections in the country and a few reported infections of early-arriving Olympic delegations. Japan lags many other nations in vaccinating citizens, with slightly more than a quarter of the population having received at least one shot, according to government data.

Some competitors say they are so grateful the Games are happening at all that they’re willing to do whatever they have to do.

“At the end of the day, that’s just the circumstances we’re in, and you have to be flexible, you have to understand what type of an Olympic Games this is going to be, and that’s a challenge that I like to take,” said Yul Moldauer, a gymnast on the U.S. men’s team, just after he was named to the squad. “It’s different from any other Olympics, so you’ve just got to take it head on.”

That sentiment doesn’t necessarily extend to the Japanese public, which is bearing the brunt of the Games’ costs and risks with a diminishing share of the benefits.

Amid all the restrictions, an effort to secure exceptions to any no-spectators measures could be controversial. Under a “special quota,” members of the IOC, along with Olympic sponsors and dignitaries would be allowed to attend the Opening Ceremony and other events, according to Japan’s Asahi newspaper.

The IOC didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the reported rules exception.

Even tangential traditions are getting a makeover in light of the seriousness of the Covid-mitigation effort. The longstanding practice of distributing tens of thousands of condoms to athletes in an effort to foster awareness of HIV/AIDS will continue, but this time “we will distribute them to representatives of each team delegation before they depart from Japan,” according to a statement from Tokyo organizers. The message seems to be: Don’t even think about getting close enough to someone to use these.

The expanding Covid-prevention measures are set to cover even the women’s and men’s marathons, which were already altered due to the anticipated heat and humidity in Tokyo. In 2019 the 26.2-mile course was moved to Sapporo on the northern island of Hokkaido, 500 miles north of Tokyo.

But given the “current COVID-19 situation,” according to a Tokyo 2020 news release, “it will be necessary to reduce the risk of infection by restricting the movement of members of the public.”

So the residents of that city who were looking forward to glimpsing a slice of the Games in person won’t get their chance. Instead, like people 10,000 miles away, they’ll have to watch from their couch.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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